So, who’s really winning this running shootaround game between Cam Thomas and Kevin Durant?
The rookie guard was claiming the upper ground against the man with the fourth-highest scoring average in NBA history, who wasn’t having it.
“He was lying for sure,” said Durant. “I definitely beat him 13 to 5. And those five shots that he made I turned my back and was like, ‘go ahead.’”
What’s not in dispute is that when it counted on Monday night in Cleveland, Thomas delivered for Brooklyn. The 20-year-old had 11 points on 4-of-7 shooting, including 2-of-3 3-pointers, in Brooklyn’s 117-112 win.
It was the latest step forward for Thomas, who saw mostly end-of-game playing time over the season’s first month before starting to get some real rotation minutes over the last week as the shorthanded Nets looked for reinforcements following injuries to Joe Harris and others.
“Without Joe, we were down a shooter, a spacer,” said Nets head coach Steve Nash. “We have to go with some different lineups and different guys. Cam was great. He stepped up with confidence to take shots. I think he is a kid who we all love and think has a bright future, but sometimes these early stages of the season you’re in tight games. It’s difficult, just some of the mistakes that are inevitable with these young guys. But tonight he really hung in there. Made some big shots for us and I thought was really aware defensively. I was proud of him tonight.”
“I got in, knew the game plan, knew what we had to do,” said Thomas. “I got in, I got great looks, wide-open looks. I feel like those are really good for me, coming in right away and getting wide-open looks, and I made the most of ‘em. So when KD or James (Harden) kick it to me, you’ve gotta knock it down when you’re wide open, and I think I did that tonight. So a great building block for me.”
Thomas made an impact after entering the game with 5:24 to go in the third quarter, with the Nets having cut Cleveland’s 12-point lead to seven. Brooklyn was still down nine, trailing 80-71, when Thomas connected on a 3-pointer with 2:32 to go in the quarter. He followed up with a three-point play after banking in a mid-range jumper, bringing the Nets within one, then put Brooklyn up 84-82 going into the fourth quarter with a 15-foot jumper with five seconds left in the quarter.
“He gave us the boost we needed you know? Somebody that can score off the dribble, off the catch like that,” said Durant. “When a team, young team like this, they’re going to send all the resources at James and myself, so they’re playing super-physical and super-tight to me and they’re gonna bring over some help when I drive, so guys are gonna be open and Cam was…they left him open. I guess he wasn’t on the scouting report. But they left him open and he made plays. In transition he got out and tied the game for us, and then that and-one, it was huge for us. And I think that pushed us over the top.”
Thomas was back with Brooklyn after a quick weekend detour in which he scored 46 points for the Long Island Nets in their 114-110 NBA G League win over Raptors 905. Thomas played 39 minutes, shooting 17-of-32, and had seven rebounds, five assists, and two steals. It was his second game for Long Island, having scored 33 points in the season-opener.
So even with the G League season underway, Thomas has been spending most of his time with Brooklyn, even as playing time was limited until recently. There’s value in the time spent around players like Harden and Durant, no matter what the score is in a pick-up game.
“We just talk the game,” said Durant. “I wouldn’t call it mentoring. We’re just exchanging information. He’s seeing my game from a different vantage point coming off the bench, I’m seeing his game, so we just exchange information and go over stuff that we see and try to sharpen our skills and our tools and our IQ as mental basketball players first. It’s good to see a young dude like Cam who is into it like that. You can tell he’s a student. We need him to build on this. We don’t need him to be comfortable because he had a little 11-point game, because he made a couple shots. I’m always on him, and he’s always on me, too, but I’m going to be on him even more now.”